The Sierra de Cazorla.

The vast plains around Jaen, in south-central Spain, stretch as far as the eye can see in this olive-growing ‘capital’ of Spain.  They are solely populated with Olive trees; if you pull off the road and stand quietly amongst the carefully tended groves you can imagine the trees working at producing the olive oil that finances the province. The sheer number of olives (and their variety) is immense…

The vast acreages of sun drenched olive trees stretche as far as the eye can see in Jaen province...

The vast acreages of sun drenched olive trees stretch as far as the eye can see in Jaen province.

The green gold of Jaen Province.

The green gold of Jaen Province.

Guarding the eastern fringe of these endless plains stands the Sierras de Cazorla, Seguras y las Villas: three mountainous ridges running parallel to each other in a south-west to north-easterly direction.  This area is Europe’s largest Natural Park – a beautiful region of high rocky outcrops, craggy cliffs and deep gorges, scented pine forests and soaring vultures.  Climbing up into the peaks the majestic vistas open up on all sides…

The Sierras de Seguras y las Villas from Sierra de Cazorla...

The Sierras de Seguras y las Villas from Sierra de Cazorla.

 

High up into the hills and a Griffon Vulture sits sentinel over his domain...

High up into the hills and a Griffon Vulture sits sentinel over his domain.

 

The Griffon Vulture.

The Griffon Vulture.

Unlike in much of Spain, wildlife is still allowed to flourish here: these sierras are a haven for many of the larger Spanish icons such as the Spanish Ibex, Iberian Lynx, Griffon Vultures, Fox, Wild Boar and Red Deer.  You can see the Ibex sunning themselves on a prominent rock in the early morning sun.  They clamber about the vertiginous rock faces seemingly defying gravity and totally oblivious to the danger of a slip or fall.  Probably natural selection in action!

The Lynx are difficult to find but we managed to see much of the rest.  October, and the rut is in full swing.  The Red Deer Stags bellow across the valleys and the Fallow Deer gather their harems together in anticipation of conceiving the next generation of youngsters. (It is wonderful being surrounded by nature’s annual stag rut; however it also makes for very disturbed nights!  The caves in the limestone hills reverberated with the calls of the most powerful stags, loudly proclaiming their right to mate and warning challengers to keep away).

Fallow Buck wandering through the campsite...

A Fallow Buck wandering through the campsite at night.

 

Beautiful female Red Deer keeping a wary eye on the humans...

Beautiful female Red Deer keeping a wary eye on the humans.

By the end of summer the land is parched and dry, the waterfalls are barely a trickle and the fire risk is high.  Walking in the hills is hot and sunny; although the mountain streams that are still flowing have some lovely deep pools that allow for a wonderfully refreshing swim in some icy cold water. You’ll need to be of strong heart as the shock of the cold snow-melt water is severe – even in the warmth of the days – but tremendously invigorating.  Great for chilling a few bottles of beer too!

The invigorating mountain streams in the Sierra de Cazorla.

The invigorating mountain streams in the Sierra de Cazorla.

As ever, many walkers take their dogs; this usually precludes them (and, unfortunately, others) from any up-close wildlife encounters.  So, get up early and the hills and peaks are all yours.  This little fox was wandering along our track minding his own business after a night out hunting and scavenging.  Wondering how to avoid the humans on his path, he lay down in the shade to consider his options and was soon up and vanishing into the pine trees, leaving us with memories and some photographs.  Beautiful!

The stalking Fox.

The stalking Fox.

 

Dozing Fox high up in the Sierra de Cazorla, Jaen Province, Spain.

Dozing Fox.

The scent of the pine with the sizzle of the Cicadas is such a summer-time experience it is hard to imagine winter could possibly make any in-roads – until the first rains arrived in the night, washed the dust off the vegetation and made the air fresh and clean again!  The sweet smell of the fresh rain on the parched earth reminded us of how nurturing and restorative the long-awaited rains are – as well as how necessary this life-giving moisture is.  The Ibex were out in force in the morning, drying off in the sun.

Mother and juvenile Spanish Ibex sunning themselves in the early morning.

Mother and juvenile Spanish Ibex sunning themselves in the early morning.

The parched earth soon swallowed up the moisture and no traces were left but for the greener leaf and a deeper blue sky – and some pretty lilac wildflowers that emerged through the baked and rocky earth overnight…

Out of the harshness springs delicate beauty after the rains.

Out of the harshness springs delicate beauty after the rains.

Camping in the hills next to a bubbling brook is an idyllic experience with Fallow Deer wandering through the campsite in the evening and the Wild Boar rampaging and snorting through the undergrowth; all very audible through canvas too, late into the night.  If you want a wildlife experience then the Sierra de Cazorla will deliver… but you’ll need a lot of patience and luck to find the Iberian Lynx.  Good Luck!

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